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FITCH, CHARLES WESLEY [CHARLIE]

FITCH, CHARLES WESLEY [CHARLIE] (1918–2006). Charles Wesley “Charlie” Fitch, music promoter, producer, and owner of Sarg Records, was born on October 9, 1918, on a cattle ranch in Hallettsville, Texas. Fitch moved to San Antonio in 1936 to attend Draughon’s Business College. In 1940 he moved to Yoakum and started a jukebox business which soon failed. Fitch enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in November 1940 and was stationed in Puerto Rico before he requested assignment to combat duty. Upon completion of training, Fitch served as a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber in Europe. His plane was shot down in 1944, and he was held as a POW at Stalag Luft 4 in Germany. After the European liberation Fitch returned to Texas, where he married Bennie Lou Bassett of Luling in September 1945. Fitch was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio and achieved the rank of technical sergeant before he was honorably discharged from the Air Force in May 1950.

During his stint at Brooks, Fitch used his re-enlistment bonus to start another jukebox business, with machines located between San Antonio and Luling. Upon retirement he and Bennie moved to Luling and on October 9, 1950, opened the Luling Phonograph & Record Shop to augment and facilitate his jukebox operation. While Charlie made the rounds checking his jukeboxes, his wife Bennie managed the store; the family had living quarters in the back. In 1951 he began booking national acts for local shows. His first booking was Eddy Arnold for a show at the Gonzales Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital. He later brought country stars such as Johnnie & Jack, Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Leon Payne, and others—many from the popular Louisiana Hayride—to local clubs and events. For a brief time in summer 1953, Fitch had a live remote radio broadcast from his shop on KCNY in San Marcos.

Fitch started his own record label, Sarg Records, in late 1953. He recorded many local artists for his label until the late 1970s. Sarg Records is noted for producing the first recordings of Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm. Fitch ended his jukebox operation in the 1990s. By then Sarg Records had acquired an international collector following, and he kept his record store open (in later years by appointment only) until shortly before his death.

In 1999 Bear Family Records released a four-CD boxed set anthology of Sarg recordings made from 1954 to 1964. Documentary filmmakers Damon Cook and Dan Pringle produced a video documentary, Sgt. Fitch: A Legacy of Sarg Records, which was broadcast on PBS in 2009. Fitch was also the Veterans’ Service Officer for Caldwell County for several years. Fitch died on May 7, 2006, at the age of eighty-seven. Bennie had died in 1973. Fitch was survived by three daughters and a son.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin Chronicle, July 21, 2006. Andrew Brown, The Sarg Records Anthology: South Texas 1954–1964, Book accompaniment to CD box set (Bear Family Records, 1999). Andrew Brown and Christopher Gray, “About,” Sarg Records (http://sargrecords.com/about/), accessed March 14, 2011. Sgt. Fitch: The Legacy of Sarg Records (http://www.sgt-fitch.com), accessed March 14, 2011.

Gary S. Hickinbotham

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Gary S. Hickinbotham, "FITCH, CHARLES WESLEY [CHARLIE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffi50), accessed September 30, 2014. Uploaded on July 15, 2014. Modified on September 14, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.